The clinical social worker is a talented and highly trained professional that can work in many different ways to provide care to those in need. It might be easier to ask what these professionals do not do, since jobs in this field can be so diverse. Yet, in broad terms, these social workers can work in a plethora of areas identifying those in need of additional assistance, diagnosing mental health problems that may exist, and possibly finding supportive services that can be utilized to promote recovery of individuals or whole family systems.
It is much easier to explain the training necessary for the clinical social worker. Most of these professionals have completed at least a master’s degree in social work, and the majority also spend at least two years in paid, internship training. At the end of this training, social workers typically take exams and receive a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) designation. Each region may have variations on what is required for licensure.
At the point of receiving a license, a clinical social worker may decide to work in many different areas. Some become medical social workers and will perform their jobs in hospitals where they might aid in the care of incoming or outgoing patients, plan discharge strategies, and identify need for additional care inside the hospital or upon discharge. There may be private counseling or families or patients involved with this work also.
Other social workers could work in hospitals of different sorts: perhaps, drug treatment centers or mental institutions. There, they could play vital roles in providing counseling services for patients, helping them to plan support when they exit the hospital, working with family members if needed, and possibly facilitating group counseling. Especially in drug treatment facilities, the role of diagnostician may be important since substance abuse and mental illness are often closely tied. In mental hospitals some social workers may undertake a diagnostic role, but this responsibility could be shared with a number of practitioners on staff.
The clinical social worker is an important employee of many agencies that serve families, like child protective services or family mental health agencies. In this capacity, social workers could assess health and wellness needs of families, make determinations on need for interventions to protect children, and negotiate with other agencies that provide services to children or families in need of them. Similarly, sometimes the social worker is employed by agencies that protect the elderly or provide them with services. Determining who requires such services and working with individual clients may be part of this work.
Sometimes a person with this job has a private practice as a psychotherapist. The LCSW designation, in almost all cases, allows for social workers to be therapists. In this capacity, they might work with children, adults, couples or families, and though family systems therapy tends to be identified as the theoretical “therapy school” of LCSWs, there is great variation in the schools of thought that inform the practice of each clinical social worker.